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How Could My Academic Performance Impact My Financial Aid Award?

Parrish Hall on the campus of Swarthmore College

Financial aid funds can be jeopardized if students do not make satisfactory academic progress, or if they withdraw from college altogether.

Learn more about:


Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

Effective July 1, 2011, Satisfactory Academic Progress as monitored by Swarthmore’s Committee on Academic Requirements meets the standards mandated by the U.S. Department of Education for federal Title IV funds. Federal Title IV aid programs include:

  • Federal Pell Grant
  • Federal Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant (IASG)
  • Federal Work-Study (FWS)
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG)
  • Federal Perkins Loan
  • Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loan
  • Federal Direct Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS)

In order to receive Federal financial aid at Swarthmore College, students must be meeting Swarthmore College's Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements, including being in good standing with the Committee on Academic Requirements (CAR).  This policy has two components:

  • Qualitative: Students must maintain at least a 2.11 GPA each year. 
  • Quantitative (also known as pace): Pace is measured by the ratio of completed coursework to attempted coursework. Students must be on pace to complete their degree within 48 credit hours (150% of their degree program). This means that students must complete at least 67% of the courses that they attempt each semester in order to stay on pace.  
    • To be clear, in order to continue to receive Federal financial aid, students must pass at least 67% of the courses in which they are enrolled and complete.  In order to continue to receive Swarthmore aid (which may or may not replace Federal financial aid), students are required to adhere to the pace below, prescribed by Swarthmore College, not the Federal government:
      • Students must earn at least 6 credits by the end of the first year, 14 credits by the end of the second year, and 22 credits by the end of the third year.
      • Students must earn at least 6 credits per year.
      • Students must have a declared major by the end of the third year.

The Committee on Academic Requirements (CAR)

The Committee on Academic Requirements (CAR) meets in December to review faculty alerts for those students who are already known to be failing or will have more than one incomplete grade. The CAR also meets in January and June to review progress for all students during the previous semester. 

Unsatisfactory Progress and Financial Aid Probation

Students who do not meet the stated requirements at the end of an academic year are no longer eligible for Federal Title IV financial aid for subsequent years. If students are granted academic probation by the CAR, they may appeal to the Financial Aid Office for a semester of financial aid probation. The appeal should specify the reasons why satisfactory academic progress was not made (such as health issues, family crises, or other special and extreme circumstances) and the changes that have taken place that insure that students can make satisfactory progress in the upcoming semester. If a student has already appealed at least once before, future appeals cannot be for the same reason as any previous appeals submitted.

Students placed on probation may receive aid for the semester of probation. To receive aid for subsequent semesters, they must meet the requirements described above at the end of the semester of probation. Otherwise, they will be ineligible for federal aid.

Academic Plan

If the Financial Aid Office determines that a student who has appealed for financial aid probation cannot meet the qualitative and quantitative requirements in a single semester, they will be placed on an academic plan. This plan will be developed in consultation with a student's academic advisor and class dean, with the goal to allow a student to complete their degree within the maximum timeframe and meet the qualitative and quantitative requirements at some point in the future.  While on an academic plan, students are eligible to receive Federal financial aid.

In order to continue receiving Federal aid, students will need to either meet the terms of their academic plan each semester or meet the general SAP requirements at some point in the future. If a student fails to meet the terms outlined in their academic plan at the end of any semester they are on their academic plan, and they are not meeting the general SAP requirements, then they will be ineligible for Federal financial aid.

Required Withdrawal

One possible outcome of the CAR is that students may be asked to withdraw from the College. Please see Section 8.5.3 of the Swarthmore Course Catalog  for the procedures to return to the College.

Students who are required to withdraw may apply for readmission by writing to the Dean of Students following the procedures found in Section 8.5.3 of the Swarthmore Course Catalog. The Evaluation committee may approve readmission. Students will be on academic probation during their first semester back at Swarthmore.  Students must consult with the Financial Aid Office upon readmission to evaluate their eligibility for Federal financial aid.

Re-establish Federal Financial Aid Eligibility

A student who is no longer eligible to receive Federal financial aid may only regain Federal financial aid eligibility either by taking courses until they meet the satisfactory academic progress requirements outlined or by being placed on financial aid probation or an academic plan as the result of a successful financial aid appeal.

Maximum Time Frame

If a student's attempted credits exceed 48 credits, or the college determines that it is mathematically impossible for a student to complete their degree within 48 credits, they are no longer eligible for federal student aid as they will have reached the 150% maximum time frame as determined by the federal government. Because of the standards of progress outlined on this page, this would occur rarely at Swarthmore College.

GPA and Credit Policies

The Policies section of the Registrar’s website includes helpful information about policies that relate to items including:

  • GPA calculation explanation
  • Repeat course policy

Below, we describe in more detail how non-standard grade codes are considered in the Financial Aid Office's review of your academic progress.

  • Credit/No Credit (CR/NC) policy: A course taken CR/NC counts as an attempted credit and a grade of CR counts as a credit earned. CR grades are not included in the GPA calculation (the shadow grade behind the CR grade is included in the GPA calculation); however, NC grades are assigned 0 quality points in the calculation of GPA.  The only grades recorded on a student’s official grade record for courses taken during the first semester of the first year are CR and NC. First-semester students receive written evaluations and grade equivalents from their instructors, also called shadow grades. Students may also elect a total of four additional courses to take under the CR/NC system and receive a shadow grade. The CAR reviews shadow grades to identify students who may be experiencing academic difficulty, and the Financial Aid Office includes them in your GPA when measuring your academic progress each year.
  • Incomplete Grades: The definition of INC grades are included in the College Catalog. Courses with a grade of INC do not count as a credit earned, but they are not included in the GPA calculation. However, once the INC converts to a grade, the course will be included in the GPA for subsequent reviews of academic progress. Additionally, if credit is earned for the course, then it will be included as an earned credit in susbsequent reviews of academic progress.
  • Transfer credits or approved credits earned elsewhere: These courses are counted as attempted and earned credits, but they are not included in the GPA calculation.
  • Withdrawals: A grade of W counts as an attempted credit (not an earned credit), and will not be included in the GPA calculation.
  • Advanced Placement (AP) credits: These courses do not count as attempted credits, and they are not included in the GPA calculation. AP credits are counted to determine progress toward graduation.

Return of Title IV Funds

Students who completely withdraw or arrange with the Dean’s Office for a Leave of Absence from the College during a semester and who receive Federal Title IV financial aid (Federal Pell Grant, Federal SEOG, or a Federal Direct Loan) for that semester are subject to the U.S. Department of Education’s Return of Title IV Funds Calculation. The calculation determines, based on the student’s date of withdrawal, if any of the Federal Title IV financial aid funds must be returned by the College or by the student. Federal Title IV funds are returned in the following order: Unsubsidized Direct Loan, Subsidized Direct Loan, Direct PLUS, Federal Pell Grant, Federal IASG, and Federal SEOG.

Date of Withdrawal

The student’s date of withdrawal is determined by the Dean’s Office, and is communicated to the Financial Aid Office. The Financial Aid Office determines the percentage of the payment period (semester) that was completed based on the withdrawal date. If the percentage of the payment period is 60% or less, then the calculation determines the percent of federal aid earned. Students who remain enrolled through more than 60% of the payment period (semester) are considered to have earned 100% of the Federal Aid received, and no Return of Title IV aid is required.

How Return of Title IV Funds is Calculated

If Title IV Funds must be returned to the U.S. Department of Education, the amount is calculated using the following formula: (100% - percent earned (days of the semester enrolled by the student) x the amount of aid disbursed toward institutional charges (Tuition, Activity Fee, Room, and Board).

Who is Responsible for Repaying Title IV Funds?

The Financial Aid Office follows the Return of Title IV funds regulations in order to determine whether the College or the student must return Title IV Funds. The funds must be returned by either the College or the student within 45 days of the determined date of withdrawal. The Financial Aid Office will notify the student, within 30 days of their determined date of withdrawal, if they must repay any part of the Federal Title IV funds they received. The student must repay the funds within 45 days of notification from the College in order to be eligible for Federal Title IV funds in the future. Federal regulations state that  the College is required to report the student to the NSLDS (National Student Loan Data System) if the student does not repay the required funds in full, does not enter into a repayment agreement with the College, or fails to meet the terms of the repayment agreement with the College.

How it Works at Swarthmore

The College, upon a student’s withdrawal or leave, may reduce some institutional charges (determined by the student’s date of withdrawal/leave). This may leave the student with aid that exceeds their adjusted institutional charges, which would be reflected as a temporary credit on the student account.

A student may be required to return Federal Title IV program funds if the amount of the temporary credit on their student account does not equal or exceed the amount required to be returned to the Federal government.

Example: Judy withdraws/takes a leave in the middle of the semester before the 60% mark. Swarthmore reduces her charges, and in doing so, her student account results in a credit balance of $500.00. Judy’s Return to Title IV calculation indicates that an amount of $700.00 must be returned to the federal government. In this case, the credit balance would become $0.00, and the College would assess an additional $200.00 to Judy’s student account, which she will now owe to Swarthmore. Swarthmore then returns $700.00 to satisfy the Return to Title IV requirement. In order for Judy to be eligible for federal funds in the future, she must repay the $200.00 to Swarthmore College.

Swarthmore College funds are reduced based on the reduction of Swarthmore College direct charges as per the College’s Withdrawal (refund) Policy.  State and outside grants will be refunded based on the policies of those organizations.

A student may be eligible for a post-withdrawal disbursement of federal aid funds if the student withdrew before the federal aid funds were disbursed to their student account.  At Swarthmore, this normally occurs when a student has not completed federal verification. The student will be notified and given the opportunity to complete the needed documentation within 45 days of determined date of withdrawal.  If Federal Direct Loan funds are eligible for a post-withdrawal disbursement, the Financial Aid Office will notify the student or the parent in the case of a Federal PLUS within 30 days of the determined withdrawal date. The student or parent will then need to respond to the Financial Aid Office within 15 days instructing the Financial Aid Office to disburse the loan funds. The student may be advised by the Financial Aid Office that it may be to their benefit not to accept their Federal aid in order to maintain future eligibility.  The College will disburse automatically further Federal Title IV grant aid unless given written direction otherwise from the student.